Nepean Food Services (NFS) is thriving community service, providing meals and social support for our aged people and people living with disability. Based in Sydney’s Greater West they have a service reach that extends much further inland and across Sydney. The organization is widely recognized for its excellence, and was inducted into the Western Sydney Community Forum’s ZEST Awards Hall of Fame in 2015

Ditte Kozak is the Manager at NFS and has worked with the organization for 25 years.

With initiatives that include the Regional Distribution Project and ‘Let’s Dine Out’ social club, Nepean Food Services is an established community hub, connecting people with services and business and that provide quality of life and independence to its clients.

Starting out working with Nepean Food Services in a part-time capacity, when her children were small, Ditte remembers an organization firmly based in the community, run by volunteers with only three 3 paid staff members. Today’s NFS is funded by the Federal government and is accountable to regulatory standards and food safety practices – which require considerable staffing and administration.

The shift to a consumer-directed care model, where funding is distributed directly to clients, may change how people buy their meals. Ditte says that the checks and balances of regulated services have impact positively, in keeping vulnerable people more safe. She maintains, however, that Meals on Wheels should remain block-funded. “Food service provision is an immediate service, it’s an emergency service. People in need of meals are often vulnerable; they don’t necessarily have the time or capacity to browse what options are available.”

NFS works with 7 suppliers from across Sydney and Ditte says she can source anything her clients want. “Penrith is a diverse community so we are used to distributing every kind of meal you can think of.” One supplier provides 15 different halal meal options; there are gluten-free, vegetarian, lactose free, diabetic friendly and Cultural and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) friendly options. NFS suppliers are accredited and the organization has a five-star rating from Penrith City Council. “We are able to offer an increasing variety and choice to our clients. Our meals are nutritious – they have good protein content, particularly compared with supermarket frozen meals.”

NFS deliver meals in an area covering Silverdale, Nepean and Warragamba in Sydney’s Greater West. The Regional Distribution Project initiative allows NFS to service the wider Sydney area, as far south as Illawarra, and inland to Bathurst. The meals are prepared and sealed in Meals On Wheels production kitchens and distributed by the organisation’s 8 volunteer delivery groups.

The service provided by Food Services volunteers extends far beyond meal delivery. Ditte says that the NFS culture includes heating up the meal for some clients, which will involve time spent in the home, giving the volunteer a chance to check on the general health and wellbeing of clients and to have a chat. “It’s an informal wellbeing check; countering social isolation,” says Ditte.

Of the Nepean Food Services workforce, Ditte says: “I am very proud of our volunteers, we have an incredible cross-section of people. The majority are retirees, we also have participants from Centrelink work programs. We have young mothers who come along and bring their kids and we have people living with disability; there are also working people who might have time in their working week.”

The ‘Let’s Dine Out’ initiative, developed by NFS, gives people an opportunity to connect with their community. Currently there are 5 groups running at different times in the week, with 26 local businesses participating. Clients can buy a voucher and dine out, with a reduced cash price. “It gives people the chance for a social outing and restaurants benefit from the extra patronage: it’s a win-win for everyone.”

With her children grown up and after 25 years with the service, Ditte reflects on a sense of guilt from having been a working mother. “There is no doubt that it is hard, bringing up children while you go out and work – even in a part-time capacity. Work was a good balance for me. I feel I have raised independent females and that they have grown up well, but you do feel guilty. But then – you see a lot of other people out there doing the same thing – and there’s also a benefit of being a positive role model.”

As for her motivation, Ditte is definite. “I am passionate about our work. We are keeping people at home, we are saving the government money that goes into aged care, we are making connections in the community and we are giving people quality of life. I am very proud of what we do.”